Jeffrey H. Eves and Tim Hack  |  12/02/2008

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The State of ISO 14001

A review of the global trends and benefits of this environmental management system standard

The term “global” is ubiquitous in our daily lives. Like the economy, human rights, and peace, the environment is often discussed in global terms because that’s the only way to bring about profound change. Now, global warming--even though its full extent is unknown--has brought a sense of urgency to improving the environment.

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) brings together stakeholders from around the globe to develop international standards that provide structured means to systematically manage improvement. ISO 14001--”Environmental Management Systems--Requirements,” along with a separate guidance document for its use, is the basic environmental management system ( EMS) standard being implemented globally to help manage environmental aspects of an organization. An EMS can be an effective tool in maintaining compliance with regulatory and other requirements, preventing pollution, and driving continuous improvement.

Third-party certification provides credibility to an organization’s EMS. This is important on a global scale because environmental regulations and management practices differ widely. Some global organizations use an EMS to ensure that their policies and commitments to the environment are adhered to at all facilities. Likewise, organizations located in certain regions of the world can provide evidence of environmental stewardship in the absence of effective governmental regulations and support. Accredited EMS certification can help environmental management by providing a higher level of consistency in implementing the system.

Global environmental initiatives can be more effectively managed through an EMS. Many organizations are implementing their own environmental policies and programs, including water- and energy-use reductions, waste and emission reductions, and other beneficial aspects such as community support and improvement programs. For example, greenhouse gas emissions are being reduced by some organizations through communication of a corporate objective. These concepts are inherent in ISO 14001, which provides a systematic approach to implementing and verifying such initiatives.

Certification by the numbers

According to the recently released “ISO Survey of Certifications 2007,” the total number of ISO 14001 certifications globally increased from at least 128,211 in 140 countries and economies in 2006 to at least 154,572 in 148 countries and economies in 2007, representing a 20.6-percent increase. In Africa and West Asia, certification growth was reported in India (+624), the United Arab Emirates (+63), and Israel (+53). In Central and South America, growth was reported in Argentina (+149), Chile (+117), and Costa Rica (+46). Europe realized many more certifications, with significant increases in Spain (+2,727), Italy (+2,232), and the United Kingdom (+1,253). Far East countries experienced the largest increases of all, led by China (+11,647), Japan (+5,002), and the Republic of Korea (+499). In North America, both the United States and Canada reported decreases due to a survey methodology change from previous years.

In 2007, the top 10 countries for ISO 14001 certificates were:

1. China: 30,489

2. Japan: 27,955

3. Spain: 13,852

4. Italy: 12,057

5. United Kingdom: 7,323

6. Republic of Korea: 6,392

7. United States: 5,462

8. Germany: 4,877

9. Sweden: 3,800

10. France: 3,476


The complete ISO survey is available for sale at ISO’s web site ( ). A recap of the survey’s principle findings is available as a free downloadable PDF at .

Sector growth

Although the majority of growth is still due to the global expansion of manufacturing, service industry certifications are growing as well. ISO reports that service providers represented 29 percent of all ISO 14001 certifications in 2007.

For some time, the automotive industry has been a leader in ISO 14001 certifications, largely due to certification requirements imposed upon suppliers. Economic hardship and loss in market share have resulted in reduced certificate numbers for suppliers to U.S. automakers. Many suppliers have had to consolidate operations and close manufacturing plants. Management at a number of these suppliers report attempts in customer diversification to offset losses. At the same time, suppliers to Asian automakers are expanding as those companies gain market share.

Other manufacturing industries, such as food, electronics, and petrochemicals, have seen steady growth in ISO 14001 certification. Some service industries with growth include retail, air transportation, engineering, and governmental agencies. Pushing ISO 14001 down to suppliers isn’t strictly limited to the automotive industry; for instance, it’s anticipated that a number of retail giants will require certification of their suppliers. Requiring suppliers to provide ISO 14001 certificates can be more cost-effective than administering and implementing proprietary audit schemes.

The increase of global numbers is also driven by corporate requirements for ISO 14001 certification. European and Asian companies are noted for requiring this. It’s seen not only as the right thing to do, but can also provide a competitive advantage in terms of lower costs and increased efficiency. The corporate requirement is a significant reason for certification in areas and markets where growth isn’t otherwise realized. It’s anticipated that this phenomenon will spur growth from competition, as certification becomes a deciding factor in choices made by customers.

The far-reaching benefits of EMS implementation have been proven in several studies worldwide. The following are abstracts from several studies that look at the organizational value of an EMS as well as suggestions for how best to implement an EMS in conjunction with other types of quality management systems.

United States

A wide range of benefits--in addition to benefits to the environment--resulting from the implementation of an EMS were identified in material published by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of the Federal Environmental Executive:

Fewer environmental incidents, and reduction of impact and response time when incidents occur

More efficient use of resources

Better awareness of the effect on the environment, allowing the workforce to make more informed decisions

Increased suggestions and initiatives

Additional opportunities to recognize and award performance

Increased opportunities for delegation of responsibility

Improved employee morale

Improved customer service

Enhanced compliance to, or better understanding of, root causes of noncompliance

Better communication and relationships with all stakeholders

(“EMS Implementation Steps and System Benefits,” Office of the Federal Environmental Executive, 2003, )



A study of EMS implementation in Spain pointed toward benefits in terms of internal communications and decision making. Personnel competency increased as a wider range of responsibilities were delegated. The amount of delegation, or decentralization, was seen in varying degrees across a company. The variation was dependent on the individual to whom the delegated authority was given.

In addition to the above, companies implementing an EMS took on a more process- oriented approach and more formalized systems of planning and control. These changes were not just at the operator level but were seen across the company as a whole.

(López-Fernández, M. C. and Serrano-Bedia, A. M., Organizational Consequences of Implementing an ISO 14001 Environmental Management System: An Empirical Analysis Organization and Environment , Vol. 20, No. 4, 2007, pp. 440-459)

United Kingdom

A study of United Kingdom manufacturers showed how the organizational culture affects EMS implementation. Four main areas of influence were identified: people, processes, structures, and environment.

In their summary, the authors note that there are “four dimensions of organizational culture that play a vital role in ISO 14001 implementation and maintenance.”

The authors suggest that managers:

“Identify present organizational culture using people, process, structures, and environment for this assessment…

“Prioritize the key areas and conduct force-field analysis in order to anticipate the strengths and weaknesses of organizational culture on implementation…

“Plan the transition towards ‘desired’ culture…

“Align the ISO 14001 program with the prevailing organizational culture…

“Build the EMS around the environmental aspect/impact assessment….”


(Balzarova, M. A., et al. “How Organisational Culture Impacts on the Implementation of ISO 14001:1996--A UK Multiple-Case View,” Journal of Manufacturing Technology Management, Vol. 17, No. 1, 2006, pp. 89-103)


An empirical study in China noted that implementing a quality management system (QMS) and EMS in parallel is not the most effective solution for handling multiple management systems. This approach leads to several problems, including more complex internal management, less management efficiency, an increase in cultural incompatibility, more employee hostility, and increased management costs. The authors describe a synergetic model that they believe is necessary for implementing integrated management systems. The model is composed of a strategic synergy, an organizational structural-resource-cultural synergy, and a documentation synergy, which operates at several levels in the organization.

(Zeng, S. X., et al., “A Synergetic Model for Implementing an Integrated Management System: An Empirical Study in China,” Journal of Cleaner Production, Vol. 15, No. 18, 2007, pp. 1,760-1,767)


A survey of a range of organizations in Italy showed considerable evidence of management system integration, with the most found in organizations that had adopted environmental, quality, and occupational safety and health (OSH) management systems. The survey also found that the company’s size had the most significant effect on likelihood of integration, with larger companies predominating. Other factors, such as industrial sector and geographical location, were less important.

(Salomone, R., “Integrated Management Systems: Experiences in Italian Organizations,” Journal of Cleaner Production , Vol. 16, No. 16, 2008, pp. 1,786-1,806)


The integrated management systems for two small companies in Austria identified three dimensions of sustainable development: social, ecological, and economic (commonly referred to as the “triple bottom line”). The account of these companies’ experiences states that an integrated management system will increasingly involve the social dimension. This social aspect would include participation from a range of stakeholders. For employees, an integration of quality, environmental, and safety requirements was generally quite natural, arising from the workplace processes.

(Fresner, J. and Engelhardt, G., “Experiences With Integrated Management Systems for Two Small Companies in Austria,” Journal of Cleaner Production, Vol. 12, No. 6, 2004, pp. 623-631)


In a survey of Australian construction companies, many respondents cited EMS and OSH standards, both for themselves and suppliers, as being of significant importance within their overall corporate social responsibility framework.

(Petrovic-Lazarevic, S., “The Development of Corporate Social Responsibility in the Australian Construction Industry,” Construction Management and Economics, Vol. 26, No. 2, 2008, pp. 93-101)


A study in Sweden noted a link between the sustainability element of corporate social responsibility and an organization’s EMS. Sustainability performance measurement can be used as an environmental objective in an EMS.

(Sebhatu, S. B. and Enquist, B., “ISO 14001 as a Driving Force for Sustainable Development and Value Creation,” The TQM Magazine, Vol. 9, No. 5, 2007, pp. 468-482)


A survey evaluating the development of global environmental and social reporting found a shift from purely environmental reporting to a more integrated approach that takes into account stakeholder values and concerns. However, although sustainability reporting has largely grown out of environmental reporting, one of the weaker areas that the survey identified was the disclosure of global environmental performance data.

(Line, M., et al., “The Development of Global Environmental and Social Reporting,” Corporate Environmental Strategy, Vol. 9, No. 1, 2002, pp. 69-78)

Final thoughts

Promising growth in EMS certification is evident as the number of EMS certificates, regions, and sectors continues to expand. With environmental issues constantly discussed in the media, businesses and government agencies can no longer afford to be anything but good environmental stewards. By helping to maintain compliance, reduce adverse effects, increase productivity and efficiency, achieve corporate goals, and demonstrate sustainability and social responsibility, an EMS is a proven environmental management tool. Organizations around the world are realizing the many direct and indirect benefits of implementing an EMS as well as its utility in managing the ever-widening breadth of today’s environmental concerns.



About The Author

Jeffrey H. Eves and Tim Hack’s default image

Jeffrey H. Eves and Tim Hack

Jeffrey H. Eves is EMS/OHS program manager for Intertek’s U.S. and Canadian Systems Certification operations. His background includes 14 years of industrial hygiene and environmental consulting experience, and four years in the pulp and paper industry.

Tim Hack is technical manager for Intertek’s Systems Certification operations in the United Kingdom. He has worked extensively in product conformity assessment and has also performed quality, environmental, and occupational safety management systems audits in many countries worldwide, mainly in the electrotechnical sector.